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Everything posted by pumpernickel

  1. It is interesting how different the "food realities" are that we in the US are living in. I seem to have been lucky because "here" in CA there are plenty of good local vegetables all year around (although I am suspicious of everything being "organic") , frequent farmer markets and good speciality stores. Actually, upon moving one of my main concerns was that my "food reality" would be pleasant. (After three traumatic weeks in Norwich/England, where I resorted to going to London to buy my bread at Paul's and cheese at Neil's yard...) And I have to say that my hopes have been surpassed by far. There are some very good farmers that grow heirloom, very tasty vegetables, lots of great seafood, the influence and frequent exposure to Asian, Mexican, Thai etc. cuisine. I even get my beloved sicilian small salt capers and details like that. And I know no better Ciabatta than one of our local bakeries makes! So I seem to be in a much luckier position than most of you. However, my point was that my way of cooking that I have adapted in Europe didn't work at all with the produce I get here, no matter how good it may be in itself, and I have had to change my style completely. Now I am not a professional cook, although I cook nearly every day. Perhaps a chef would be able to seize the differences in the raw materials quicker and adapt faster? Then again, can you imagine putting, say, Michel Bras in a LA restaurant and expect his cuisine to reach similar heights as in his local Auvergne? My sense of reality prevents me from pretending that my cooking is anywhere near his level of excellence, but the analogy is that I seem to have developped a personal style of cooking that relies very much on the quality (read quidditas) of the produce and that has had to change drastically with the quality of the produce. I was simply amazed at how much that affected my cooking and wanted to know whether you have made similar experiences. Thanks very much for your input, or should I say feedback... Enjoy!
  2. One of my favourite restaurants, its wine list being not a small factor in the equation, lies in the quiet heart of the Kaiserstuhl. I think they have been serving their refined french-cum-local cuisine for well over 50 years and that time shows in the depth of the winecellar. To quote a friend, ardent wine-lover from Luxembourg: "If I lived any closer, I wouldn't be having a winecellar of my own!' Some examples of wines I have enjoyed there recently: Leroy Clos Vougeot 1989 - 60 E Clos de Ducs 1989 - 55 E Clos de Ducs 1986 Magnum - 110 E Roumier Les Amoureuses 1989 - 50 E Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachet 1990 - 90 E Beaucastel VV 1989 - 50 E Rousseau Clos de la Roche 1974 - 60 E Heyl zu Herrnsheim Brudersberg BA 1976 - 90 E (0.75) Bonneau du Matray Corton-Charly 1992 - 70 E I could go on and on and, as you can see, I haven't even delved into the Bordeaux section which is huge and equally priced. Most of the prices break down to the original prices ex cave, not inflation adjusted... Enjoy!
  3. Thanks to Guy and all the participants of this session. I second John that I would like to see this forum-in-forum continued in some form, because every single post has been substantial and the level of reflection exceptional. Thanks Jonathan and Robert for your warm welcome. And commander, don't give up fighting those nasty sprayers (I don't come close to that section of the supermarket very often, but bext time I do, I will think of your phrasings... and smile). Enjoy!
  4. Thanks for your input, dear forumites. Robert, I agree fully that all depends on where you are. You and Hathor certainly have vastly different impressions on this subject owing to the fact that you have moved from continental to mediterrean climate going to Europe, while I have done so the other way round. The two coasts are certainly very different, foodwise and else... Funny you should mention that notion objectivity, Robert, to somebody who is supposed to have a professional relationship with said notion but not really succeeding in doing so - how do you relate to what you believe does not exist? Without disgressing into the shallow waters of philosophy and back to my original point, let me rephrase my question: Have you ever cooked a dish successfully or been able to reproduce it both here and there? I am not referring to the trivial truth that every time you cook a dish it turns out slightly different (no "tasty" renderings of poor Heraclit's fragments, please...), but rather to whether a well-rehearsed dish, one that you have more or less brought to perfection, "there", works "here" and vice-versa. Viewed this way, the question alludes to how much a particular dish rests on the quality of its ingredients, quality in the ancient sense of quidditas rather than "good"-ness. Apart from spaghetti aglio et olio, I can't think of any dish that has worked for me on both shores...
  5. I have enjoyed the thoughtfulness and depth expressed in this roundtable with Guy tremendously. One topic that surfaced several times is that between European culinary culture and American - fill in what you please -, be it in products or their appreciation. This topic is of great interest to me as I have recently moved over from Europe to California. One of the first things I noticed is that cooking the way I did in Europe did not work out at all. My first impression was that the ingredients might be the issue and there's a lot to it, for instance: - scallops, not at all as tasty and delicate as the Atlantique ones, and they quickly turn into rubber; - artichokes, the Italian ones are much more "mineral" and fragrant; - mushrooms, whatever variety, they are huge and dry, with more aromatic persistance of taste than one would care for - o dear memory of the porcini collected freshly, sweet and fragrant; - cheese, Parmiggiano and other hard cheeses are ok, but forget my beloved chevres or any other soft cheeses for that matter etc. (ok I don't really cook with them, so forget about that one). I could go on like this for a while, but I will stop. Maybe you can complete the list with products that don't taste quite the same. I felt like I had to learn how to cook all over, because products would have the same name but taste completely different, e.g. take peas, sweet and crunchy in CA, earthy and yet delicate in good old Europe. I have to mention that my particular style of cooking owes a lot to the tastes of the products themselves (mostly vegetables, because they have the most subtle tastes.) But with time, I learned to appreciate qualities in products that are different in Europe or that we don't have at all. For instance, I have rarely tasted tomatoes that are as good as the many kinds of heirloom tomatoes you get in CA. Or take sweet corn, okra, pea tenders. And, o, he citrus fruits!!! There's tons of stuff that I will miss back in Europe, but I think that the different cuisines that I have adapted to "here" and "there" are not just a consequence of different raw materials but also one of moods, flavours, "cultural" atmosphere, weather etc. Here, in CA, there is so much influence from all kinds of different cuisines, Thai, Chinese, Mexican, to name but a few, whereas "there" in Europe, we have cuisines that are more insolite, pur souche. Overall, as one of my strongest associations, I would think of European cuisine as autumnal, full of earthy, complex and delicate flavours, the beauty of a flower at its peak before it passes, whereas CA cuisine is bright, colourful, intense and cheerful, a thing of the moment. Think of all the flower smells you have in CA vs. the sous-bois of a European autumn. Then again, those happen to be the same associations I would come up with if somebody were to ask me to explain the differences between European and New world wines. Then again, if you think about the range and importance of wine pairings in Europe and America, you have a similar picture (not to mention pairings with Coca-Cola, and then there's my cultural pessimism, that some styles of American wines are no more than an effort to sublimate Coke and the cynical scientist chiming in that freeze-drying might be are more appropriate means to that end... and STOP!). So are these purely personal impressions and/or what are yours on cooking "here" and "there"?
  6. kurl I have a definite answer for you. Neil's Yard cheeses, while being distributed all over the Staates, has a blue vein goat milk cheese that they don't export and that is equalled by no other cheese of that genre. Can't think of the name, unfortunately, but last time I was in London I took one piece of that cheese (about 2 pound) and, at that time, with the BSE crisis and what, I had to literally smuggle it through customs. Besides, the shop is really worth seeking out. I think it was in Covent garden and you should be able to smell your way from the tube station onwards... (hint: first, take a left) Enjoy!
  7. Puttabong is also one of my favourites, because it's so tender,green and tippy. The price got me startled though, I paid something like 10 Euro for 125g. Compared to Europe, I find that loose tea is a rather rare commodity here in the States and prices are more commensurate with packaging than with quality. I found a decent Kukicha and ordinary Sencha at our local asian store, though. So who has made experiences with online tea stores? Enjoy!
  8. Kim, thanks for your interest! For starters, may I reference you to my recent post on wine - lobster pairings? If you like it, I will write more. In my mind, I am running through some of the better pairings and already my mouth starts watering. I will name just one pairing so yours can start watering too: Porcini a la creme with white peach filets/Gewurztraminer. Simply sautee the fresh porcini with just a hint of garlic in olive oil, then add some creme fraiche when they are almost done. Allow to simmer for a 1, 2 minutes and add the filets of white peaches 30 s before serving. I love adding some lemon thyme and a sprinkle of - you've guessed it: Tradizionale, of course. Now the wine: it has to mirror the luxury of the dish and the lusciousness of its texture. Only a very special Gewurz can do the trick, an aged Sauternes might offer the best substitute. Riesling or Loire Chenins would be too tart. I am thinking of a Gewurz grown not far from Colmar on a limestone soil, which gives it sufficient acidity. It was picked very late with a little botrytis on perfectly ripe grapes and not allowed to ferment all its sugar. The mineral notes and its phenolic structure (like a red wine in disguise) give it ample backbone that keeps its own fat and sweetness and that of the dish in cheek and prolongs it into a lingering noble bitter finish. Peach and botrytis is an obvious association, but the aromes of the Gewurz are as much in the nose as they reappear on the palate, adding a surprising dimension to the combination. The texture and sweetness of the porcini is mirrored by the peache filets and sometimes you wonder whether it is porcini or peach that you are having right now. Some of the porcini have wild aromes (barnyard) that form a beautiful contrast to the purity of the peach fruitiness. The success of this combination depends on the wine echoing structure and aromatics of the dish, but introducing a new element, its minerality, that finally overwhelms the bunch of sensations and turns them into one lingering aftertaste. This might read lenghty but believe me the pleasure is immediate and heavenly!
  9. Thanks for your welcome and comments! When I hear of declassified products a "grain of salt" is the phrase that immediately comes to my mind. I have no idea why... I think that in Modena you had to bring the whole batch submitted for approval to the commitee and it would then be bottled and sealed immediately upon approval. With the increases in volume over the last years, I do not know whether that is still the case. But I would have to think hard of a DOC/AOC product that is more rigorously controlled than Tradizionale! Any suggestions?
  10. Balex, you are right in that Tradizionale fermentation works a little bit differnet. Acetic fermentation starts from (fruit) wine, whereas balsamic fermentation starts from concentrated must (reduced to ~1/2 - 1/3 by slow boiling). Balsamico fermentation is a simultaneous alcoholic and acidic fermentation. The sugar concentration is so high that the osmophilic yeasts are not able to ferment it in one go so that the acetobacter can convert alcohol into acetic acid as it is formed. Alcohol builds up to up to 5% and then starts to decline again. In the finished product, there is almost no alcohol left. Because of the complex bacteria/yeast coculture and the effect of climate, Tradizionale can vary dramatically in composition. Some of them do not reach 4% acid and that's where the italian law wants to see them labelled as Condimento rather than aceto. That's where you might have picked up that Tradizionale is not a vinegar, which is not true, of course. Because the dry extract (a decent wine will have 25 g/l, to say a ballpark number) can go up to 900 g/l (1 l of water weighs 1000 g ...) you don't taste the acidity as much, but be assured it is there. Acidity varies between 4 and 8%, quite the same region that fruit, wine and sherry vinegars cover. That is simply not true. Normal, i.e. industrial balsamic vinegar is a mixture of acetic acid, oak extract, cooked grape juice and caramelized sugar. That's why it costs $2.99 at TraderJoes. If you are lucky, you may come across artisanal balsamico that was produced in a similar but abbreviated process. Or vinegar destined to be tradizionale that didn't make it. I that I think nobody in their right mind would blend pure tradizionale (that is by definition only stuff that has been approved) with wine vinegar. I think that in Modena this would be considered heresy. No kidding there...
  11. Throughout the years, the Italian Wine Magazine "Merum" has extensively covered Tradizionale and the pressures the producers had to face in Brussels. At one time not too far ago, the annual Tradizionale production was in the 100 gallon range , so you can imagine how hard they had to fight against the millions of tons of a product that bears only a faint linguistic relation to the real stuff. I have been interested in Tradizionale for some time to the point that I started making my own (I have small barrels, so time passes more quickly...), ordered weird italian books on the microbiology of Tradizionale and the installement of the DOC etc. Having plenty of it on my hands, I cannot but agree that it is the ultimate seasoning. Once you free your mind of how many $ you sprinkle on your dish there are actually no limits of its usefulness. My thing is wine - food pairings, and often Tradizionale can provide that missing joint. When I cook Seared Ahi towards a red Hermitage (i.e. topped with a paste of kalmata olives and roasted pine nuts), I would use artichoke and similar vegetables, finish them of with some parmeggiano slicings until the cheese just caramelizes and then sprinkle some Tradizionale on top of it all. When you sprinkle it on, it works much like coarse sea salt in that it creates textural complexity. In my experience, parmiggiano and Tradizionale can make anything wine friendly. One my favourites is wild corn salad (fr. mache, ge. feldsalat) with wild garlic croutons, seared porcini, Tradizionale/olive oil dressing and a baked half of a medium crottin de chavignol on top. Works wonders with a floral Pinot noir (more like the Dujac kind of style), whereas everybodys says that wine and salad are no-nos. You would be surprised! And o what a wonderful crisp and complex aftertaste it leaves in a blueberry/strawberry/etc. sorbet (I usually add some lemon thyme or lavender to accentuate its - well, for lack of a better word - balsamic note). The only thing I have never tried is the real Lambrusco that the Modenese are so attached to. Have you? And what are your favourite pairings in which only Tradizionale would do? Enjoy!
  12. Once more, back to the 1986 coulee: Just went through my notes and realized that I also had it on one other occasion the year before (way to many wines that night). It showed completely different, rather dissapointing, and I only noted "kerosine, oxidation, old yeast". Strangely, that wine came in an antique bottle like the ones that coulee was bottled into in the sixties (like a Baileys bottle, for lack of better comparison). The wines were so different I never made the connection before...
  13. Shared the 85 and 86 with some Rhone vintners this March in Ampuis. Both wines were rather strange and have little in common with newer vintages of the coulee (or very old ones which I haven't been fortunate enough to taste). The 86 had some CO2 and was a little sweet and you had the impression that it was vinified very reductively from not very ripe grapes which had seen quite a bit of botrytis. The 85 was more coulee-ish, with developped aromes but not completely over the hill. Again the quality of the grapes was anything but exceptional. Both only had 11.5% alcohol. A word of caution on dismissing the quality of the 97. It was still shining when I last tasted it 1 1/2 years ago, but botrytized dry wines alwyas fall into a hole after their baby fat wears off. The 90 tasted on the same occasion was in a very akward stage and although I have no doubt that it will turn into a great wine, it was very difficult to enjoy in that stage. The coulee is a notoriously difficult wine except when it shines and throughout the years I have had more consistent drinking pleasure from his village cuvee, which never shuts down but of course doesn't quite offer the same degree of sophistication. Last year I encountered some strange bottles of the coulee with trie speciale or trie du clos or something similar marked on them. Could somebody please educate about this cuvee?
  14. This is a topic I have been interested in quite a bit during the last month. Here are my experiences: First pairing was fresh Maine lobster (just steamed, no gimmicks) served with garlic butter. This is the traditional last day treat of a research conference held in the east coast. Quite luxurious you could say if you forget about the fact that you are supposed to pair the lobster with coke or orange juice (no alcoholic beverages allowed in the dining hall, puritan heritage obliging). Of course, we couldn’t allow that to happen and so I sneaked out with a colleague and we had a bottle of German Riesling Auslese to go with the lobster, which, surprisingly, worked wonders. I say surprisingly because the wine had quite a lot of residual sugar (in the 70 g/l range), which gave it enough fat to complement the lobster. The acidity and strong minerality (the wine was heavily botrytized) gave it enough backbone to freshen up the whole thing. The exotic spiciness of the Riesling and the rustic garlic flavours formed an interesting contrast. Rather an impromptu pairing but it was so magical I tried to repeat it at home. For whatever reason it didn’t work out – maybe it was because of the lobster (local Santa Barbara instead of Maine lobster), maybe the somewhat additional spices (I added orange peel, cinammon, lemon gras and cardamom to the broth to work with the spiciness of the Riesling), maybe the wine just didn’t shine as much. But then again, my experience is that impromptu successes alwys fail when you try to repeat them... The wine: Think of an Alsatian VT/SDGN rather than a filigraneous Mosel Auslese. It needs to have a touch of noble bitterness. I could imagine a Schoenenbourg from Deiss, an old Geissberg SDGN from Kientzler (89…), or a Quart de Chaume from an “off-vintage” like 91-94. I continued with the idea of a spicy broth to be worked into a risotto. This time, the lobster (Maine again, no experiments here) was preboiled and I started making the broth the classical way (sautee carcasses, deglaze and flame with cognac etc). The broth was concentrated strongly in the risotto and the lobster tail and claw were simply sauteed and served seperately. To add some of that bitter counterpoint which had worked so well with the Riesling, I also served some sauteed baby artichokes which were seasoned with Hawaian sea salt (which contains some iron clay and has a refreshing bitterness to it). This dish was prepaired with a Chardonnay in mind, the 2000 Talley from Au Bon Climat, and both the dish and the pairing were pure magic. The Talley has a slight mineral edge to it, but most of all, it is so balanced that the best word to describe it is seamless elegance. It may not be a great wine but it possessed all of the elements (spicy, rich, sweet) that were in the dish and combined the complexity of the dish into a mouthwatering unity (the wine itself is not very complex). I also tried this dish a second time with a 1998 Hermitage blanc from Tardieu-Laurent (certainly a wine that has more depth by itself), but that pairing didn’t work out quite as well. The wine: ABC is widely distributed in the US, but if you want a substitute, rather think in terms of white Burgundy than Cali Chardonnay. To me, the generosity of an aged Meursault Charmes or Perrieres comes to mind. Needless to say that these alternatives come with a hefty price tag and even just for the sheer pleasure it provides, the ABC is a clear winner (25 $).
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